William Gilbert - Writings in The Conjuror’s Magazine, or,
Magical and Physiognomical Mirror
(August 1791-July 1793)

Gilbert’s articles and announcements appear mostly under the name of ‘B.’ His first contribution, as a correspondent, appears in the September 1791 Number, and he contributes increasingly substantial articles to the Magazine until May 1792, when harsh criticism of his astrological methodology is printed. He disappears abruptly at this time (‘What is become of Mr. B.?’ queries the editor in July 1792). Further contributions from B. appear in April and July 1793.

Full list of articles by or about Gilbert

Astrological References and Background

About The Conjuror’s Magazine

See foot of page for bibliography

In its first Number, The Conjuror’s Magazine started with an article on astrology, and astrology became in due course such a major theme of its articles that it changed its name in August 1793 to the Astrologer’s Magazine. It initially announced its intention to be a miscellany including everything from card tricks to occultism. A major feature was to include a part of Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy (the art of telling a person’s character from their physical appearance) in each Number.

The opening editorial pitched the magazine like this: ‘Our principal aim is to comply with the wishes of the public, generally expressed to have a pleasing variety.’ It gushed on ‘We need scarcely say with what glee, innocence and satisfaction, families, purchasers of this Magazine, will be enabled to pass the ensuing Winter evenings.’ Statements of cosy intent like this contrast with Marsha Keith Schuchard’s view of the magazine as the organ of an underground fraternity of politically subversive Free-Masons. But if it started out as fun for all the family, its pages definitely did grow to cater for the family’s wild rebellious son. The list of contents for the first number August 1791 gives a sense of how it started out.

ASTROLOGY
Horary Regency of the Plants
Decumbiture of a Gentleman, &c.
[Astrological] Tables
Explanation of, and Directions for, using the [astrological] Tables
Philosophical and ingenious Amusements
Surprising and entertaining Deceptions on Cards
A Mathematical Combination, &c.
How to Guess the Thoughts of any Person
The Art of Fortune-Telling by Cards
To make Sport and cause Mirth with Quicksilver
The Old Woman and the Dumplings
The Art of telling Fortunes by the Lines in the Hands
Physical Amusements from Pinetti
To make a Ring shift from one Hand to another, &c.
To Guess by Smelling, &c.
Legerdemain Performances.
To make one Pen-knife out of Three, jump out of a Goblet
To pull off any Person’s Shirt, without undressing him.
Metallurgy
Method of Assaying Gold and Silver by a short Process

The tantalising ‘Old Woman and the Dumplings’ is a tale of two pranksters putting some quicksilver in their granny’s dumpling dough which caused the dumplings to fly into the air whenever the lid was taken off the pot where they were cooking. It ends on a sensible don’t-try-this-at-home note: ‘but to play tricks with quicksilver should be done with great care, as it is very dangerous.’

Bibliography

Churns, Stephanie. Romanticism and Cultures of Popular Magic in the 1790s, PhD Thesis, University of Aberystwyth.
This includes a very good history and survey of the Conjuror's Magazine on pp 102–29, that views the magazine in a context wider than a vehicle for Gilbert's writings. Available online

Paton-Williams, David. Katterfelto: Prince of Puff, (Matador, 2008)
A very useful introduction to the range of the Magazine's contrasting aims can be found in the study of a travelling conjuror who combined magic tricks, popular scientific displays and claims to occult powers.

See Scanned NYPL Copy of Vol 1 Aug 1791 - Jul 1792 : Google Books (Mistitled 'Astrologer’s Magazine')